Want to know where I get all my business savvy? I read, a lot. In fact, I bang out at least 1 book each week. Not all of them are business related but most of them are.
You’ll find every business book I’ve ever read below.
For a book to make it on this list, I read it cover-to-cover. No skimming, skipping, or scanning allowed. You’ll find the book I just finished at the top.
If you’d like to know what I know, this is the place to start:
A fantastic account of what it took to turn Pixar into the company it is today. It’s also full of insights on how to manage a team. Highly recommended.
Essentials of Accounting
If you want to truly learn the details of accounting, this is a great book to start from. It’s actually a workbook where every point has you do an exercise which is great to completely absorb each concept. But if you’re looking for an overview of accounting or just need an explanation of high-level concepts, there’s much better books available.
An incredibly thorough book on changing your own behavior and psychology, by far the best I’ve found yet. You’ll also get plenty of ideas for how to help others change theirs. Highly recommended.
10 Days to Faster Reading
It includes come basic tips on how to read faster for slower readers. If you already read a a decent pace, this isn’t the book for you. It’s an introduction for speeding up your reading but doesn’t go into a lot of detail on speed reading.
This books commits every business book sin out there. First, the author claims that having a strong purpose to align the company is responsible for many of the greatest successes in the last century. This includes Ford, IBM, Microsoft, Warren Buffet, and others. No evidence is given of this. The author merely gives a basic summary and picks out anecdotal points that support his purpose theory. Additionally, the writing lacks structure and meanders quite a bit. Skip it.
The Path of Least Resistance
You’ll get a few good insights on creativity out of this book. But it goes on quite a few tangents that don’t add much value. It also can’t really decide what it wants to be as a book. It’s a mix of a guide on creativity, a self-help book, and lessons for a struggling artist. The lack of focus prevents it from being great.
Only the Paranoid Survive
An excellent first-hand account of what it takes to survive a wave of disruption in your industry. Intel was originally focused on RAM until it became a commodity and forced them to move into processors. Most companies don’t survive these kinds of transitions. First you need to let chaos reign a bit in your organization and begin experimenting with everything (not just new products but with every part of your organization). But as soon as you find a path to a new industry, you need to focus your team on that vision. This is also excellent advice for startups as they attempt to create a new industry or disrupt an old one.
The Year Without Pants
If you’re interested in how companies like Automattic work, you’ll enjoy the book. But having worked at KISSmetrics (which is about 50% remote) for over two years, I’m not as fascinated with day-to-day accounts of remote work as others might be. It was still great getting a first-hand account of Automattic since I have a great deal of respect for those guys. Also, I’ve never really liked Scott Berkun’s writing. This is the third book of his that I’ve read, I always finish them thinking that the book has so much more potential and never quite got there.
This is considered one of the core books on business strategy for a reason. It’s exceptionally thorough and I highly recommend it. After reading it, you’ll come away with a much deeper understanding of market fundamentals.
A solid overview of the benefits and costs of remote work (and why you should start doing it if you haven’t already). It’s a pretty short book so there isn’t much depth. You’ll still come across some good tactics for transitioning to remote work or negating the few costs. Having worked remotely for over 2 years, everything in the book describes remote work pretty accurately.
Great by Choice
A fantastic book on why some companies achieve extraordinary while other companies that start from the same place remain mediocre. Innovation and luck aren’t as influential as many think. Instead, it’s about obtaining consistent results over long periods of time, sticking to set of operating principles, testing with minimal risk and going big only once you have empirical validation, and making sure that you don’t squander the luck you do get while being able to survive any back luck.
The Art of Learning
An exceptional book on learning and developing mastery. Also a great balance between frameworks and personal stories to help you retain the core principles. Highly recommended.
The Principles of Statistics
A deep dive into the fundamentals of statistics. But it’s pretty heavy on math. If you’re looking for an easier introduction to statistics, check out What is p-value Anyway? or Naked Statistics.
The Sales Bible
A collection of tactics for sales. The book is a string of tactical lists that cover random parts of the sales process, there’s no framework or system to piece it all together. If you’re going pretty deep into sales, you might find a few good tactics to use. But there are much better sales books out there.
The Oz Principle
Regardless of what happens or how much control you actually have, you need to take full responsibility for results and continually ask yourself “What else can I do?” Great piece of advice. The only problem is that this book is horribly written. It’s one of those books that could have been reduced to a 1000 word blog post without losing any value.
The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course
A solid overview on financial reports, it’s a good starting point if you don’t have a finance background.
Turning Numbers into Knowledge
A rudimentary overview of logic, analysis, and critical thinking. Skip it.
The Essential Drucker
You’ll see many references to Drucker’s work (for good reason) and this book includes key chapters from his many books.
Learning from the Future
A complete waste of time. Each chapter is written by a different author and each of them has a slightly different approach to scenario planning. So the entire book becomes disjointed, repetitive, and lacks any core frameworks that you can rely on. There’s also a complete lack of depth on anything. Skip it.
First, Break All the Rules
This is my blueprint on world-class management. If you manage or build teams, you absolutely need to read this book.
The Economist Numbers Guide
A complete waste of time. The book attempts to go as broad as possible and include countless topics. From significant figures to game theory, standard deviations, Monte Carlo simulations, financial projections, compounding interest, and everything in between. Because the scope is so broad, not a single topic gets the attention it really needs for you to walk away with any applicable lessons.
Seeing What’s Next
Clayton Christensen breaks down how to use the theories from The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution. The previous books focused heavily on developing theory but didn’t go into much depth on how to apply them. If you only read one of them, read this one. It’s the most succinct overview of everything and doesn’t assume you’ve read the first two. But I’d recommend reading all three so you can more integrate these concepts into your own perspective as deeply as possible.
Lead the Field
The only personal development book you’ll ever need. It also mirrors many of the principles I’ve been applying in my own life recently. Much of the book seems like common sense but few people take it to heart. If you do, you’ll have everything you ever wanted. There are no hacks, no tricks, and no shortcuts. Just a steady and reliable path to success. Highly recommended.
How to Read a Financial Report
A great intro to your three core financial reports: income statement, cash flow statement, and balance sheet. The book is concise, has plenty of depth, and is clearly written. So if you wan to learn more about finance, it’s a great place to start.
Making Sense of Behavior
An introduction to Perceptual Control Theory. Instead of assuming people attempt to control objective reality, we control our perceptions. When our perceptions are out of alignment with our expectations, we act to reduce the error. And higher levels of perception dictate the goals of lower systems which drive action at that level. Conflicts arise when people’s perceptions oppose one another and people have goals that cannot be met simultaneously. The only way to resolve problems is to move to a level where goals are being defined for those involved. Then the goals need to change so they’re no longer at odds.
Green to Gold
Probably the most poorly written and structured business I have yet to read. Even worse, it’s full of generic advice that’s nothing more than cliche platitudes. It’s repetitive and a complete waste of time. Which is a shame because building businesses within environmental constraints will become an increasingly important topic. But this book falls far short of providing any helpful guidance. Go out of your way to avoid this book.
Four Steps to the Epiphany
Definitely a classic of entrepreneurship. If you’re looking for the authoritative step-by-step framework for how to get a business off the ground, this is it.
How to Make Millions with Your Ideas
A collection of various business stories/lessons from Dan Kennedy’s career. But there’s no framework or system to pull them together, it’s just a list of random lessons. It’s an interesting read but not essential. If you’re a fan of Dan Kennedy, grab a copy. If not, skip it.
The metrics in this book are most useful to corporate marketers working at Fortune 500 consumer companies. There’s nothing here for startups or B2B. And the online section is laughable. It’s a good reference if you’re forced to use the corporate marketing metrics. Otherwise skip it.
Bankable Business Plans
If you need to write a business plan, this book outlines would you should include. But there’s little reason to read it otherwise.
The New Business Road Test
A decent framework for how to evaluate your new business idea before you start committing resources. But much of the book was redundant, it could have been cut by 75% without losing any depth. Many of it’s “case studies” loosely demonstrated lessons and were a bit reductionist. This should have just been a lengthy blog post.
The Partnership Charter
A great overview of everything you should keep in mind before entering a partnership. Not only should you sort through each issue, you should work with your partners and document your decisions in a partnership charter. This will avoid many of the potential pitfalls that partnerships fall into. If and when I enter one myself, I’ll definitely re-read this book.
A good overview of how to approach negotiations. While most of us focus on what happens during the negotiation itself, the biggest wins come from the preparation. Specifically, it’s critically important to identify the core interests of the other party, sequence the setup in your favor, and find agreements that increase the value for both parties (instead of getting stuck in a zero sum game).
It gives a high-level introduction to lean manufacturing and then goes into a lot of detail on a few case studies. Most importantly, the majority of work performed on most products doesn’t add any value that the customer cares about. So lean methods strip systems down to their core, eliminate all wasteful effort, and focus on getting materials to flow through the entire system exactly when they’re needed. Expediting and stored inventory are signs that your processes aren’t as efficient as they could be. This sounds obvious but it’s incredibly easy for internal processes to waste a great deal of time and effort. Lean processes and systems aren’t built by accident.
You Should Test That!
A very basic approach to conversion optimization, it didn’t get anywhere near the depth I was looking for.
Show Me the Numbers
A classic on how to design tables and graphs. If you regularly tell stories with data, you need to read this book. It’s a little heavy but well worth it.
Go It Alone
A fantastic book on what it takes to build a go-it-alone business as a solo-preneur. Instead of building a lifestytle business with minimal work commitments, this approach focuses on scalable systems, ruthless outsourcing, constantly experimenting, and keeping pace with markets/customers to build a business for yourself. This is exactly what I want to build.
Using freewriting to clarify your thoughts and produce better writing is a great idea and I’ll be experimenting with it more. But this book should have been reduced to a single blog post. Skip it.
Universal Principles of Design
125 design principles are covered in this book, each is given about 2 pages. So it’s an excellent overview of the field but it doesn’t go into enough depth on an single topic. You won’t finish it feeling like you’re a more capable designer, you’ll just be more familiar with random design concepts.
The Simplicity Survival Handbook
A few good tips but not a groundbreaking book even though the subject is critically important. In our careers, it’s easy to become overloaded and take on too many projects. You’ll need to be able to bring clarity to any issue, focus on the few goals that actually matter, and politely push back on extraneous tasks. This is another one of those tips that sound obvious but are easy to forget when you’re grinding it out.
The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan
This book outlines your main priorities when joining a new company as a senior leader. First, start meeting with key players BEFORE your official start date so you can hit the ground running on day run. Also define your burning imperative (a combination of vision, mission, values, and objectives) so your team knows exactly what to focus on. Then over-invest in a few projects that have a high priority to deliver early wins within the first 100 days. Simple? Yes. How many new leaders execute at this level? Not many.
What is p-value Anyway?
A solid introduction to statistics, p-values, regressions, and the most common mistakes made when working with data. If you’re looking to get a better understanding of statistics and you don’t have a deep background in quantitative fields, it’s a great book to start with.
A bland a generic approach to making decisions. Skip it.
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
As we move into positions of leadership, small aspects of our personalities can severely limit how willing other people are to help us. And without the support of our team, we’ll only be able to go so far. Being a great manager/leader isn’t just about doing the right things, it’s also about avoiding the personality flaws that drive people away. This book covers the main faults that prevent people from achieving further success in their career and breaks down a strategy for how to implement long-term change. Highly recommended for anyone looking to become a better manager or team leader.
Escape from Cubicle Nation
A good book for people that haven’t been involved with startups, freelancing, or building their own projects. If you’re in the corporate world and think starting a business is terrifying, you’ll get some good encouragement from it. But everyone else can skip it.
How to Win Friends and Influence People
Still a classic. A lot of the tactics in the book may seem logical but most people (including myself) don’t do them nearly as often as we should. Unlike other self-help books which are too generic to be helpful, this one gives plenty of tips that you can put to good use.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Easily one of the classics of entrepreneurial theory, definitely up there with The Innovator’s Dilemma. Drucker breaks down the main sources for innovation, strategies for exploiting them, and best practices for managing a new venture. Highly recommends, I’m actually surprised this book doesn’t get referenced more often.
The Unwritten Laws of Business
And excellent and short overview of the key principles that should guide your day-to-day behavior in the workplace. I completely agree with each law in this book.
The Creative Habit
Plenty of practical tips on how to faster a life of creativity and obtain mastery of your field. Twyla Tharp is a renowned dance choreographer and breaks down the most important lessons she’s learned throughout her career. All of these lessons are just as relevant to business.
Getting Things Done
A pretty solid approach to productivity. The system breaks down into a few key steps. First, get every to-do, project, and commitment written down. No exceptions. As you document each task, define the next action step that needs to be taken in order to move it forward. This needs to be done upfront. At daily and weekly intervals, review your tasks. The book goes into a lot more detail and outlines a specific system for how to execute on this. While I won’t be implementing these principles in the exact way they’re outlined in the book, it’s one of the only approaches to productivity that I’ve been excited to implement.
The Innovator’s Solution
A absolutely phenomenal book. Whereas The Innovator’s Dilemma goes into great detail on the theory behind market disruption, The Innovator’s Solution outlines a process for harnessing disruption. Not only can you use this book to build a new disruptive company, you’ll learn how to build a disruptive growth machine at an established corporation.
Ethics for the Real World
Probably the worst book on this list. Their ethical framework boils down to this: develop your ethical code and practice adhering to it. Seriously, that’s as deep as it gets. Even worse, the writing is awful. There’s no structure to the book, endless tangents, and logical errors with every point. Avoid reading this book at all costs.
By far the best book I’ve read on how to tell an amazing story. It’s actually targeted to screenwriters but anyone trying to communicate effectively will get a ton of value from it. Why stories? We communicate in stories and the best marketing uses them to persuade markets. Countless marketers tell you that you need to tell a story. But very few of them understand how to actually do it. This book will show you how.
Blue Ocean Strategy
Most companies focus on competing directly in their market in a zero-sum game. These are red oceans. Instead, companies should focus on creating new markets that don’t have any competitors, blue oceans. Plenty of great frameworks to help you think through the strategy of your own company and create blue oceans.
2013 – 50 Total
Work the System
A decent primer on how to apply systems-thinking in management. Use tools to automate any process you can and use documentation for everything else. Employees should be expected to follow documentation exactly (no exceptions). And to avoid bureaucratic traps, make sure you can update documentation immediately whenever an improvement is decided on. But the book repeats itself a lot while wondering into all sorts of tangents. This could have been a business classic but it’s not quite there even after the third edition.
The book is just a series of tips for each stage of the hiring process. You’ll pick up a few good one’s but there’s nothing earth-shattering here.
So this isn’t really a book. When you purchase it, you get an access code to an online test that tells you what your top 5 strengths are. The book is just a description of each possible strength. Once you know what yours are, you can read a few pages on each one. It’s pretty accurate and is a good way to validate your own assumptions about where you excel. I do wish that the action items on how to capitalize on your strengths went into more detail. It also doesn’t go into any detail on what kind of career paths would be a good fit for your combination of strengths. You’re left to figure that out on your own.
Save the Cat!
If you’re looking to get a better understanding for how to write great stories, you should take lessons from screenwriters. And this is one of the more popular screenwriting books at the moment. It breaks down the ideal formula for any movie (and any story for that matter) which also explains why Hollywood movies seem identical. They follow the same formula.
The Honest Truth About Dishonesty
Another great book by Dan Ariely. Basically, very few people take full advantage of any given situation and attempt to cheat to the maximum possible degree. But we all cheat a little bit when the situation presents itself. This allows us tip the scales while still believing that we’re fundamentally good people. While there are a few people that attempt to take full advantage of others, most damage is done in aggregate from us all cheating a little bit.
Diffusion of Innovations
This is one of the core textbooks in the field of diffusion research. Many innovation frameworks from tech come from Everett Rogers’ work and this book. Early adopters vs laggards, the adoption curve, and the importance of opinion leaders all come from here. It’s definitely a classic, be sure to pick it up if you’re looking for a fundamental understanding of how innovations spread. Most importantly, marketing is rarely responsible for driving innovation. It’s great at getting the initial attention of innovators and early adopters. But after that, continued adoption of your innovation will depend heavily on word-of-mouth.
A great introduction to statistics that covers the main concepts you’ll encounter without getting too technical. If you’re working with data and come from a business background (instead of a stats background), definitely pick up this book.
A Random Walk Down Wall Street
Since it’s not possible to beat the market over long periods of time, the most reliable returns come from a diversified portfolio of index funds. While it is possible to beat the market marginally, taxes and brokerage fees will quickly consume any of your gains. This advice is in a lot of personal investing books. It’s a good book to start with and one of the classics in the field.
The Halo Effect
An amazing book which lists the most common ways that people use data incorrectly in management. Not only do managers make these mistakes, many of the most popular business books make them too. Easily one of the most insightful books I’ve read this year.
Some good insights here and there. But the book gives a broad overview of business as a whole and ends up not going into much depth on anything. A good introduction to business but definitely not an essential read.
Good Strategy, Bad Strategy
An excellent framework for approaching strategy. First start by diagnosing your primary problem, then put together your overall direction, then define the actions that you’ll take to get yourself there. It sounds simple but very people put together a coherent strategy that includes each element.
Sources of Power
An excellent book on how experts make effective decisions. Contrary to popular opinion, very few people use rational systems for decision. Instead, people recognize patterns, rotate through options until they find a good fit, and use instinct for the most part. And for the most part, the quality of decisions are high for experts. But the only way to become an expert is to spend a great deal of time in a given field. Step-by-step decision frameworks work better for novices because they haven’t built a deep source of experience to pull patterns from.
Why We Buy
If you’re in retail, you’ll find plenty of ideas for optimizing your store. But online marketers won’t gain much from this book. It’s interesting but not essential.
More of a shelf-help book than a leadership one. And a superficial one at that. Skip it.
Definitely a business classic. The main take-home is that the components of a system cannot be improved in isolation. Every system has a few key bottle-necks that completely determine the output of the system as a whole. Even if it means making other components inefficient, you should do everything in your power to reduce the constraints from these bottle-necks.
Growing Great Employees
A fairly superficial introduction to management. There’s a few good insights like giving candidates scenarios during interviews but there isn’t much depth overall. You can safely skip it.
A detailed and well-researched dive into the data problems of the pharmaceutical industry. It’s a pretty damning report of how flawed drug testing is. There’s also fascinating insights into how many ways data can get manipulated (ending drug trials early, a psychological bias to publish statistically significant results more frequently, conflicts of interest from corporate funding, using ideal patients in trials, etc).
A former VP of Sales from Salesforce explains how they got to their first $100 million in sales. I highly recommend anyone at a startup with a sales team read this book. And if you’re a SaaS company with a sales team, this is required reading. Stop what you’re doing and grab a copy right now.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
An interesting book an neurological disorders but I wouldn’t consider it essential reading.
Growth Hacker Marketing
This is a short and basic intro to growth hacking. If you don’t have a good idea of what the field is all about or how it differs from traditional marketing, this is a good way to get up to speed. But if you’re already in the trenches, it’s not going to teach you anything you don’t already know.
Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing
This is a very basic intro to direct response marketing. There are much better books out there like Breakthrough Advertising, Advertising Secrets of the Written Word, Scientific Advertising, and Tested Advertising Methods. And the sections on digital marketing are very weak. Skip it.
Stumbling on Happiness
A great overview of the flaws in our psychology that keep us from accurately predicting our own happiness. Both our imaginations and our memories consistently lead us astray. In fact, the only way to judge if a decision will make you happier is to ask someone else how they currently feel having made the same decision.
Online Marketing Simulations
A short and great guide to the type of analysis you should be doing on your marketing channels. Measuring conversion rates and revenue generated is not enough. You need to know which channels produce the best customers over the long term, which product categories match the best for those channels, and how channel/merchandise behavior changes with the customer lifecycle. The book even includes a sample Excel doc and the code you’d need to run this analysis on your own customer database.
Making Things Happen
A good intro book to project management but isn’t groundbreaking. Scott Berkun has a tendency to talk about everything without being able to focus on specific points. So you come away with random tidbits and tactics that may help you in random places. But there isn’t anything that will completely change the way you manage projects.
12: The Elements of Great Managing
This is a perfect introduction to management. If you’re about to step into a leadership role for the first time, I highly recommend this book. It’ll give you a much better understanding of what your responsibilities and day-to-day will be like.
Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto
The story of how one of the most successful video game developers came to be. Always fascinating to see where an industry-changing company came from and how it overcame challenges while growing.
Who: The A Method for Hiring
A straight-forward process for hiring people that greatly increases your success. Considering how important recruiting is for any business, the last thing you want to do is guess your way through it.
A great followup to Positioning and The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. Depending on your position in your market, you’ll need to execute a marketing strategy of defense, an offensive attack on the leader, flank the leader’s position, or use a guerrilla strategy. But the book could probably get condensed into a lengthy blog post without sacrificing any depth.
A pretty superficial overview of the triggers that make a brand more fascinating. Skip it.
If you want to do any consulting, you absolutely must read this book. It also covers my favorite approach to pricing. While it is possible to build a very successful business that competes on price, I would much rather build a business that competes on value and prices accordingly.
Most systems that we design are fragile. When volatility occurs (and it always occurs more frequently than we think it will), they fail. The economy, most people’s careers, nations, etc are all fragile. You’ll do much better if you build systems that actually benefit from volatility. These systems are antifragile. Highly recommended.
The Black Swan
An absolutely essential book to understanding probability and uncertainty. Everything of consequence is the result of completely unpredictable events, black swans. You can’t control them and you can’t predict them. If you want to build a successful business, you’ll need to understand the difference between bell curves and long tails. Most of our lives are spent in the long tail.
The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing
A complete waste of time. Not only is it an incredibly superficial overview of email marketing, there aren’t any helpful frameworks, tactics, or processes. Most of the content of the book consists of “This company used this email campaign, you could too! Or don’t, it might not work. Do what’s right for your business!”
If you want to make yourself or your organization happier, it’s best to spend money on experiences, to buy time, to pay now while consuming later, and to invest in others. Focusing solely on yourself and material things won’t bring you the same amount of happiness. A great, quick read.
An even better book on brand positioning than The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. Stop whatever you’re doing and read this book right now. If you don’t, you’ll get crushed by someone who did.
The Master Switch
A fantastic dive into the history of information industries (the telegraph, phones, television, radio, and now the internet). As each new industry grows, corporations eventually consolidate their power and severely restrict what’s available. And without proper safeguards, someone’s bound to bring the internet under their control. While I definitely agree that there is an opportunity for a company to dominate the internet and sacrifice it’s flexibility in the name of profit, Tim Wu has simplified his reading of history a bit too much. For example, he lumps Hollywood in with theses other industries but neglects industries like book publishing, newspapers, and music. He also pits Apple as the domineering tech company against the “open” philosophy of Google. Even though Google has a reputation of being “open,” many of their industry practices are very closed (search for example). So it’s a great overview of the telecommunications industries but I’m not 100% sold on all of his conclusions. That being said, most industries tend to consolidate as they age, there’s no reason we should expect otherwise when it comes to the internet.
The Signal and the Noise
It’s incredibly easy to find patterns in the noise of our data instead of finding the signal that can actually help us predict likely outcomes. This is why most predictions fail. They pick up on patterns that are simply random correlations. The only way to improve our predictions is to turn our models into hypotheses, make predictions based on those models, and refine them over time as we gain new evidence. And you’ll never be able to eliminate uncertainty, all outcomes are subject to a degree of variance. In fact, making over-confident predictions is one of the primary ways that predictions fail. Highly recommended.
Myths of Innovation
This book is a collection of essays on innovation. It’s a great introduction to the topic but lacks depth.
Playing to Win
I haven’t gone that deep into high-level business strategy but the framework in this book looks solid. Clear, concise, flexible, and has a clear path for implementation. If you’re responsible for the major decisions of your company (what markets to pursue and how to do it), definitely grab this book.
This is a fantastic book for understanding the mindset behind using metrics to measure progress in a startup or small-to-medium business. You’ll get a lot of value from it if you haven’t already spent much time with analytics or the lean startup methodology. If you have experience in both, you’ll probably find a lot of the book to be review.
Results Without Authority
If you’re a project manager in a large company with plenty of bureaucracy, this book will give you some ideas for how to move your project forward. For smaller teams, skip it.
The Talent Code
Talent isn’t the result of some innate quality. It comes from have spent countless hours refining a skill in deep practice. When we practice, we strengthen the myelin of our brain which increases the speed of our thoughts and actions. This is where the 10,000 hour rule comes from (spending 10,000 hours doing something will make you a master at it). But not all practice is the same. We need to take on new challenges and make mistakes in order to keep growing. And having great coaches and a source of passion can help us stay on track over the long term.
The Social Animal
This is one of the most well-respected books in social psychology. And it gives an amazing overview of the most influential studies from the field. Since business is fundamentally about people, you absolutely need to read this book. It may be a text book but it’s a relatively easy read compared to others.
One of the single best books on copy and marketing. Period. Many consider this to be THE book on copy and it lives up to its reputation. It can be pretty hard to find but you need to get your hands on it.
The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing
This is a conventional business text book written for managers at large companies. It’s pretty dense and you’ll need to pick out the few key insights if you’re working at small or medium-sized company. Most people can safely skip it.
The Challenger Sale
Possibly one of the most important books in sales and is my new favorite book in the field. Most experienced sales reps execute a sale by digging into the needs of a client with open ended questions. Then they personalize the offer and explain how the product meets their needs. But this standard process is no longer the most effective approach. Instead, reps should be teaching insights that clients were previously unaware of. Then the product is positioned as the solution.
Age of Propaganda
Great overview of many studies on persuasion. There’s plenty of great insights that you’ll be able to apply to your own marketing. But the recommendations on policy to make the public more resistant to propaganda are pretty weak.
If you’re planning on raising a round of funding for your startup, you absolutely need to read this book. There’s no better resource that will walk you through how to close a deal with a VC. And make sure you pick up the second edition.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You
The most common piece of career advice is to “follow your passion.” But this is a terrible idea. People that try to follow their passion end up bouncing from job-to-job feeling unfulfilled. Genuine passion only comes AFTER you’ve gotten incredibly good at something. If you want to lead an amazing career that you love, your best bet is to put in the time and build a deep skill-set in an area that others find incredibly valuable. The passion will follow. This is the best framework for building a career that I’ve found yet. Highly recommended.
The Long Tail
The past half century was dominated by hits. Hit songs, books, movies, and businesses. Because of the cost required to ship and provide products, it only made sense to provide products that everyone would like (even if they didn’t love it). Now that the internet has radically reduced those costs, incredibly obscure products can turn a profit. Serving the long tail has now become a viable business model. This book is required reading for any entrepreneur, especially if you’re in tech.
2012 – 68 Total
Sell More Software
This is a collection of blog posts from Patrick McKenzie. He puts out top-notch stuff and I highly recommend you follow his blog. But for the most part, there isn’t much in this book that you won’t find after an afternoon on his blog. And if you’ve been following him awhile, you’ll recognize many of the blog posts.
A solid intro to the App Store and what you’ll need to focus on in order to generate revenue from your app. I might be doing some mobile marketing in the future and I now have a list of tactics to use. But this is definitely a short, intro book. Don’t expect a deep dive into marketing, app development, or mobile marketing.
The 48 Laws of Power
Each law is covered in depth and includes a summary of the law, historical examples of the law being used successfully, examples of when it wasn’t used, a detailed breakdown for how the law works, and a an explanation on when you shouldn’t follow the law. The entire book follows a fairly rigid structure and gets a little dry by the end. And while I don’t necessarily agree with all the laws, you should be following many of them if you want to succeed.
Advertising Secrets of the Written Word
A classic book on copywriting written by one of the masters, Joseph Sugarman. Copies can be a little hard to find but I highly recommend you pick one up. His style isn’t as formulaic as others. Most of his ads start off with a curiosity hook which plays into a story. Once you’re hooked into the ad, he covers the benefits, features, price, and guarantee to get you to purchase. I’ll definitely be playing with this approach more.
Hillstrom’s Email Marketing Excellence
This is the single best book on analytics I’ve ever read. And there’s no better resource for learning how to calculate the value of your email marketing. Seriously, these frameworks are decades ahead of the analytics industry and will show you how to find the actual ROI of your marketing. It’s a super quick read so grab it right now.
The Thank You Economy
If you’re completely new to this social media thing, you should read this book. But if you’re not, most of this book will tell you what you already know. And if you’re seen several of Gary’s keynotes (which you should definitely check out), there’s little reason to pick this book up.
Advanced Google AdWords
Despite the title, this book is more of an introduction to how AdWords works. There are plenty of topics that Geddes doesn’t get into like how to get a free advertising grant from Google for non-profits or how to deal with product categories that have restrictions on them (like gambling). If you’re just getting into AdWords, this is the most authoritative book on the subject but it doesn’t get as advanced as you hope it will. And if you want to get the AdWords cert, this will serve as a great study-guide.
How Will You Measure Your Life?
Good but not great. Clayton Christensen and the co-authors use several business theories to demonstrate how to live a more fulfilling life. The subject of his advice is split equally between business, the individual, and the family. Even though there’s a few great insights, there just isn’t enough depth.
Fantastic book. In American culture, we idolize the extrovert. But many of us are introverts and have very different temperaments. Instead of gaining energy from people, introverts gain energy by being alone. And in order to be happy, they’ll need to structure their lives and careers completely differently. Even if you’re not an introvert, I highly recommend you read this book. It will help you immensely when working with you colleagues and understanding your own strengths. If you’re wondering, I’m very much an introvert.
Carrots and sticks are not the best way to motivate people. You’ll increase short term motivation at the cost of killing long term motivation and reducing creativity. Only pursue this strategy if your employees have mundane and repetitive jobs. To truly motivate people, we need to focus on providing autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Even if you’re not a hiring manager, you should still read this book to better understand what kind of environments will keep you motivated.
We are not the perfectly rational people that the field of economics assumes we are. Price, free stuff, ownership, and expectations have a massive impact on our decisions. Since understanding the irrationality of markets is essential to building a business, you should definitely read this book.
Secrets of Consulting
You’ll find a series of stories and “laws” of consulting within this book. There’s a few good anecdotes but most of the book is just okay. It’s not bad, but it’s not great.
All Marketers Are Liars
This is a great introduction to the field of marketing. Highly recommended for beginners. But if you’ve been in the field for awhile and are familiar with Seth Godin’s work, you’ll probably find the majority of the book to be common sense.
It covers a number of companies that excel at customer service and presents 5 elements that every indispensable company has. But Calloway doesn’t provide a structured process for how to implement these same behaviors in your own company. He attempts to explain how the responsibility for figuring this out is on the reader. This is sloppy thinking on his part and is a serious weakness of the book. Skip it.
This book is a great overview of all the psych studies on how people approach price, value, and make decisions. But it’s not ideal for marketers that have to apply these principles. The book has zero structure since it’s broken into 50-some chapters, each featuring a different study. Because of this, the concepts are fragmented and it’ll take some work to synthesis everything from the book. It could have been a fantastic book but it falls short.
Trust Me, I’m Lying
There’s no better place to understand the economics, business models, and motivations behind blogs. If you spend much time building blogs or trying to get featured on them, you need to read this book.
Lead Generation for the Complex Sale
If you’re completely new to the world of sales and marketing, you might find this book useful. But I found it pretty redundant. If I were you, I would skip it. There are much better resources for learning how to do B2B marketing.
This is probably the single best book I’ll ever read on how to pitch. Even though you shouldn’t force a pitch unless you have to (building relationships and looking for deep understanding will take you much further), they’re unavoidable in some circumstances. Before you reach for Power Point or Keynote, make sure you grab this book.
The Art of the Start
This is a great introduction to entrepreneurship. But if you’re already familiar with the lean startup movement, basic principles of product development, and want to dive deep into specific topics to build out your skill set, this probably isn’t the book for you.
The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development
This is a great crash course in the lean startup movement. It focuses on showing you how to validate your business idea as fast as possible. While it’s a great book and I highly recommend it, I was hoping for more detail on how to run customer interviews at different stages of a startup.
The Power of Full Engagement
Most of us measure our productivity by the number of hours we put in. But time is not the best way to measure our output. Instead we should measure our energy levels and make sure that we’re fully engaged while working. As our energy levels start to drop, we need to seek ways to renew that energy and recover. If you want to perform among the best in your field, the key is to balance energy expenditure and recovery through daily rituals.
Work Less, Work More
If you save up enough cash and invest properly, it’s possible to live off your capital gains and retire far earlier than most. It’s an interesting concept but the book was a bit repetitive.
Your Money or Your Life
This book was a complete waste of my time. It focuses on some pretty basic philosophies on how to approach money and doesn’t give much in the way of practical advice. If you’re looking for a solid system to approach your money, I highly recommend I Will Teach You to Be Rich over this book.
There are four drives that were fundamental to the development of human progress, culture, and nature: the drive to acquire, the drive to bond, the drive to learn, and the drive to protect. Satisfying these drives is critical to both personal happiness and organizational effectiveness. But the authors rely on a synthesis of other academic work and some overly simplified case studies to build their theory. I’d love to see more empirical results before fully supporting this framework.
While this book goes into detail on how our minds are tricked into overeating, it’s a great resource for understanding the mental tricks that we’re susceptible to. One of the most important skill sets for a marketer is understanding how people think. And you’ll find plenty of examples here.
It’s Not About the Money
By applying a meditation-based approach to money, it’s possible to alleviate anxiety about money for good. But the book was a little too new-age for me. It does cover 8 ways people approach money. Understanding those 8 types and knowing your own financial biases (and the types of your closest friends and family) more than make up for the other shortfalls in the book.
Recommends splitting your portfolio equally between stocks, bonds, gold, and cash. This diversification brings in 9-10% returns annually regardless of the economic climate (recession, inflation, deflation, etc). It’s also one of the simplest strategies to setup and follow. I definitely recommend it.
I was really hoping for a lot more. There’s a few good insights but there’s also a lot of bad advice, especially with the online marketing recommendations. If you understand the importance of churn, lifetime value, and you know how to use basic financial metrics, there’s no reason to pick up this book.
Financial Intelligence for Entrepreneurs
This is an excellent crash course on how to use finance in a small, growing business. Finance may not be the most exciting topic but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t know how to apply basic financial skills to your business.
The Innovator’s Dilemma
Even if you do everything right and manage your company exceptionally well, disruptive innovation can still blindside you. If you have a successful company and want to keep pace with your market (or you want to exploit one), definitely pick this book up. On of the best books I’ve read so far this year.
The Psychology of Selling
Probably the best introduction to sales that I’ve found yet. If you need a crash course on how to sell-effectively, this is the perfect place to start.
If you’re looking to improve your personal or profession relationships, this is a must-read. Some of our conversations are pivotal in our relationships. If we don’t handle them properly, many people will shut us out and avoid working with us. Use these frameworks to build open and trusting relationships with those around you.
How to Lie With Statistics
Numbers easily lie. Learn how to spot statistics that don’t have any validity so you know when to trust the numbers and when to ignore them. A quick read and highly recommended.
Another Seth Godin classic. If you’re looking for a step-by-step manual on how to be a leader, you won’t find it here. But it will get you in the right mindset and give you plenty of nuggets to start working from.
Thinking in Systems
Flows, stocks, and feedback loops control how a system functions and what it produces. This book is an excellent introduction to systems thinking and I highly recommend it if you’re trying to build anything (like a business for instance).
There’s a few good insights on how to manage email and information. But for the most part, most of the suggestions are pretty obvious. Skip it.
If you’re building a company and committed to getting the culture right, you need to read this book.
The Power of Less
The most effective way to become more productive is to do less. Cut out the nonessential and focus exclusively on the projects that truly matter. This applies to both business and life. Not only will you be more productive, you’ll also be happier.
A great introduction to how to build a presentation that your audience will actually enjoy.
Bargaining for Advantage
An excellent book on negotiating. A required read for anyone in business.
The Paradox of Choice
More choice doesn’t always lead to happiness. Instead of seeking to maximize the value from each decision, focus on choosing what’s good enough. Then move on with your life. You should also limit the choices your customers have, they’ll have an easier time finding the best option.
This covers the positioning concepts of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by the same authors but with more depth. Choosing the position of your brand/product is the most important decision you’ll make. I highly recommend both.
Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits!
Great book for learning how to focus on the key financial metrics of your business. If you don’t have a super clear idea of what your financial goals are (and how to get there), read this book.
Business Analytics for Managers
If you have a data warehouse, a full-time business analyst, and you’ve been tasked for how to build a data-driven company, get this book. Otherwise, you should skip it.
Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics
This is the single best book on Google Analytics out there right now. If your business depends on Google Analytics for your KPIs (key metrics), grab this book.
Don’t Make Me Think
This is a classic of web design/web marketing and is referenced frequently.
Presenting to Win
Fantastic book on how to put together a sales deck or PowerPoint presentation.
Web Analytics 2.0
A classic in web analytics, definitely pick it up if you’re measuring your business online.
The Ultimate Webinar Marketing Guide
Webinars do an incredible job at converting prospects into customers. This book will tell you EXACTLY how to do them. Highly recommended.
Covers a few key pitfalls that people run into when analyzing numbers. It’s good but not great.
The Millionaire Next Door
If someone looks like a millionaire, they’re probably racked with debt. Most millionaires ruthlessly cut personal expenses.
Ready, Fire, Aim
This book tells you exactly how to build a business from $0 to $50 million. There are 4 stages of business growth and each has a single priority: sales, product development, organization, and defining your role. Essential reading for every entrepreneur.
How We Decide
Great explanations for how the mind works. If you’re just starting to explore psychology, this is the perfect place to start.
David Ogilvy (the author) is one of the most successful advertising executives. Ever. He’s even called the “father of advertising.” This books covers the lessons he learned after working with many of the largest corporations and producing some of the most well-known ads to date.
The 1% Windfall
A complete guide to pricing strategy. But it won’t tell you how to determine the perfect price, it explains how to provide different prices to different people. You’ll get the most value from this framework if you have a medium or large-size business.
Tested Advertising Methods
By far the single best book on copywriting. Reading this will give you an instant edge in everything you do.
I’m a huge Gary Vaynerchuck fan but this book didn’t have the depth I was hoping for. It explains how to start building a business with social media but doesn’t give a reliable step-by-step process. Instead of providing a strategy, it focuses on encouragement. Skip it and watch Gary’s keynote speeches, they have a ton of insights.
Zappos doesn’t spend any money of marketing, they focus exclusively on customer service. If you want to take that approach, read this book to learn how Zappos got started.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People
I have to admit, I have absolutely no idea why this book is so widely read. Skip it.
More Money Than God
An in-depth history of hedge funds. Definitely interesting but won’t directly apply to most businesses.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
A good overview of game theory but not as good as it could have been.
Smashing Book #2
Better than the first but still not that great.
Smashing Book #1
Too much detail in some chapters, not nearly enough in others. It’s basically a series of long blog posts.
Web Analytics: An Hour a Day
While much the this book has become dated, there’s still plenty of useful insights. You’ll get the most use from it if you’re a mid-size to large company.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Incredibly detailed book on how we think. This should be required reading for anyone in business.
After studying the best sales professionals, this book breaks down their process step-by-step. This is your manual for sales. Learn it by heart.
Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got
Looking for a great overview of everything that marketing entails? Start here.
Good to Great
This is your step-by-stop guide for how to turn an average organization into one that defines an industry. Highly recommended.
2011 – 39 Total
Everything Is Obvious
Everything seems obvious after the fact which makes us think we can accurately predict the future. We can’t. Focus on predicting the short term and building systems that can quickly adapt to shifting markets.
Getting Started in Consulting
Breaks down the process of starting a consultancy/freelance business and does a fantastic job.
Accounting Made Simple
A super brief intro to accounting. If you hate numbers, this is a great resource to get your feet wet. If you want to get serious with accounting, you’ll be left disappointed.
Working for Yourself
All the gritty legal and accounting details required for a business that’s a one-man-shop.
Marketing without data is silly. Don’t do it.
Read This Before Out Next Meeting
Best tactical advice out there on how to run a meeting.
The Ultimate Sales Machine
If you’re trying to build a sales team, you need to read this book.
A few good insights on what persuades us to buy. But there are better books on the subject.
Complete Web Monitoring
Unfocused and only a few usable insights, I don’t recommend it.
The War of Art
The act of creation can be a brutal process. This book will help you keep moving forward.
We Are All Weird
Mass markets are fragmenting into countless niche markets. There is no more “normal” so embrace the weird and you will profit.
Anything You Want
Derek Sivers (the author) built an incredibly successful business, CD Baby. This book details the lessons he learned along the way.
Do the Work
This is a followup to The War of Art and goes into more depth on the Resistance (the impulse to procrastinate). Your sole objective each and every day is to defeat the Resistance and keep moving towards your goals.
If you have experience with social media, blogs, and internet marketing, you’ll find this book to be very basic. If you’re just getting into internet marketing and need a book to get you started, definitely pick it up.
Made to Stick
Some ideas spread, others don’t. Learn how to make sure your idea is one that spreads, highly recommended.
A quick read with plenty of amazing insight from the founders of 37 Signals. Highly recommended.
The Education of Millionaires
Many millionaire’s never went to college (or high school) and built successful businesses from scratch. This book covers many of their stories and pulls out lessons to apply to your own business.
12 rules for how your brain works. This book will make you more productive and help you communicate better.
The Ultimate Sales Letter
A classic copywriting book. It covers direct mail sales letters at length but there’s plenty of insights for email, landing pages, or any other marketing material that you depend on.
Most marketering attempts to interrupt. But marketing becomes far more powerful when we’ve gained the trust and permission of our prospects.
Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness
Plenty of interesting data but nothing earth-shattering.
The Culture Code
Based on the culture you’re from, you will have deep, emotional reactions to certain messages. If you want your business to succeed, you must tap into the culture codes of your target market. Plenty of US culture codes are discussed in the book.
Launch fast, launch often. You can never get market feedback fast enough and your primary goal is to test all the critical assumptions in your business model. Required reading.
The 80/20 Principle
Most of what you do doesn’t help you. All of your results comes from a fraction of your efforts. Learn how to focus your energy to radically improve the effectiveness of your business. This should be required reading for everyone.
The Design of Everyday Things
Design is not about winning awards. It’s about simplifying people’s lives. Do not discard functionality for aesthetics.
This was the best intro to Google Analytics out there but with the launch of Google Analytics v5, it became a bit dated.
On Writing Well
Remember all those writing rules you learned in high school and college? Forget them. They do you more harm than good. Use this book to actually learn how to write effectively.
This is a marketing classic. Read it, pontificate, then read it two more times. It’s your marketing bible.
A great resource for anyone just getting into copywriting.
Details matter, a lot. Because most people automatically pick the default option for any choice, we must take great care in presenting solutions and building systems.
Want a complete crash course on business? Start here.
Build personas first, THEN optimize your site. With the sheer volume of potential optimization tests you could run, you need a persona to guide you.
Bird by Bird
This book speaks directly to writers but if you do most of your work on you own will, it’ll help you keep moving forward.
The Effective Executive
A business book classic, highly recommended.
I Will Teach You to Be Rich
One of the best personal finance books out there. Use it to automate your finances so you can focus on your business.
Markets change so fast and are now so complex that you can’t systemize an entire business. You need linchpins to keep pace. This book will tell you how to be one.
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
Over time, all markets consolidate into 2-3 players. And the largest is usually the first. If you’re not first, make sure you know what you’re doing.
The 4 Hour Workweek
Instead of pursuing relentless growth, entrepreneurs have the option to build a lifestyle business. With outsourcing, 80/20 analysis, and batching, this is your guide for how to do it.
Start With Why
I would add one stipulation to the concept of this book: don’t start with your “why,” start with the “why” of your customers.